Music

Tomahawk: Oddfellows

Oddfellows is still plenty — and deliciously — weird, yet the previous dominance of experimentation on the band's work is more tempered in favor of concisely constructed songs, several of which, dare I say it, border on being catchy.


Tomahawk

Oddfellows

Label: Ipecac
US release date: 2013-01-29
UK release date: 2013-01-28
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

It’s no small irony that while Tomahawk’s latest album is titled Oddfellows, it is their most accessible by far. Don’t get me wrong; it’s only accessible by the standards of Mike Patton and Duane Denison. Fret not, the record is still plenty — and deliciously — weird, yet the previous dominance of experimentation is more tempered in favor of concisely constructed songs, several of which, dare I say it, border on being catchy. Such a development isn’t a surprise really, as it is something of a proportionate reaction to their last album, 2007’s Anonymous, one of the most idiosyncratic records in rock history, which saw the band faithfully adapt traditional Native American music. That the shift to comparative conventionality is under the quasi-meta, possibly self-referential album title is surely no accident, as nothing with Patton and crew is.

Opening the record bearing its name, the title track finds Patton playing with the band’s image, addressing it with a nudge and a wink — “They call us oddfellows / We’re dancing on the gallows”, Patton declares in an all-encompassing bellow. Around him throbs Denison’s riffs, sludgy with a seasick twist. The man’s playing remains as distinctive as Patton’s voice, his guitar tonalities alternately slinky, strangled, constricted, and jittery, routinely triggering physical sensations like nausea or vertigo in the listener. It’s fitting that the song’s outro features Patton scatting while Denison garrotes a sound from his instrument akin to the scurrying of a rat’s nest. The ending serves as a microcosm of the pair’s collaboration, the vocalist and guitarist fueling each other with their distinct talents.

On the subject of Patton’s voice, what can be said that hasn’t been said before? Not that further proof is necessary, but the album yet again displays how Patton is the most formidable singer of this, and arguably any, era. The sheer diversity of sounds his vocals conjure and the range of his styles are staggering, as though he’s the musical equivalent of vocal sound effects maestro Michael Winslow. That his voice (or voices) exhibits no wear and tear after decades of screaming, growling, crooning, beatboxing, and full-out rabid glossolalia is likewise incredible. As with any Patton record, Oddfellows contains no shortage of workouts for his pipes, the standout on which he does his heaviest lifting being “Stone Letter”. From a sandpaper serenade in the verses to a chorus that itself shifts line by line between a gargled yelp and a clear holler, the song affords one of Patton’s most impressive vocal acrobatic shows in recent memory. The alternating expressions simulate the protagonist’s fractured psyche, obsessed with masochistic love: “I throw you a stone letter / Smooth or rough / And I hope you read it one day / And feel the love”. Somehow, it has an anthemic quality to it with its condensed guitar chugging abruptly erupting into frenetic shredding with the detonation of John Stanier’s drum kit, a hard rock cut deserving of radio play but still too weird to garner it.

As a lyricist, Patton retains his penchant of using words more for their sound and the rhythm they can yield when strung together than for their literal meaning. As a result, most of the lyrics are nonsensical, yet more frequently than not they impart some vivid imagery or stand as absurdist aphorisms. Cases in point: “I got a love that’s second to none / You and me and him makes it one” from “Waratorium” and “You rub me so wrong, so wrong / Please keep your clothes on, your clothes on” from the sonic freakout “South Paw”. Through it all, there is fixed like a permagrin Patton’s tongue-in-cheek sincerity (or maybe authentic sarcasm is more apt).

New to the outfit is bassist Trevor Dunn, a longtime collaborator of Patton’s from Mr. Bungle and Fantômas, and a welcome addition he is. Often times, his and Stanier’s low-end provide the stable bedrock on which their compatriots can run amok, while at different points, they take to the forefront, as on “The Quiet Few”, wherein Denison’s searing guitar takes a backseat, functioning like a panning searchlight, to the rumbling and clangy rhythm section. Most impressively is what the duo does with the jazzy “Rise Up Dirty Waters”, Stanier playing a snappy Buddy Rich drum pattern while Dunn comes in with an ascending bassline that replicates a melody more indicative of an electric organ.

The record’s finest moments remain the ones where Tomahawk expand their musical palette, which for this group tends to mean a stripping away of the cacophony. There is the spooky anti-ballad “I.O.U.”, opening with sparse minor piano chords and a drum machine’s synthetic beats before Patton comes in with, “I owe you a love song / For everything I done wrong”, a recurring couplet throughout the piece. Of course, by the end, it devolves into a crashing bit of bedlam backed by Patton’s looped oooo’s and aaaa’s. And who can resist the creeptastic yet seductive “Baby Let’s Play ___”, a song of enticement that could end with its prey confined to a dungeon.

About the only thing that keeps Oddfellows from being a thoroughly stellar album are the seemingly requisite filler tracks that simply do not last in your memory no matter how many times you listen to them (“Choke Neck”, “A Thousand Eyes”). It’s telling that these are the cuts on which Tomahawk sounds like they’re repeating themselves. It’s also a shame that closer “Typhoon” falls into this block, ending so suddenly as to leave the listener without a sense of resolution.

These minor quips aside, the album is certainly going to be one to remember in 11 months when 2013’s “Best of…” lists start coming out. It’s reassuring that no matter how stale and bland the musical terrain gets, avant-guardsmen like Patton, Denison, and such remain to flare up on occasion to scorch through it, like a forest fire setting the stage for newness to emerge in its wake. In their hands, it’s proven “experimental” does not equate to “self-indulgent”.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image